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  Man Describes Molestation during Years in Boys' Chorus
Accusations: His Statements Are the First Indication That Allegations against Father Coughlin Go beyond Five Men Cited in Diocese's Investigation

By David Haldane
Los Angeles Times
February 13, 1993

A man who contends that he was repeatedly molested by Father Richard T. Coughlin as a youth in 1978 and 1979 has become the sixth person to come forward with allegations of sexual misconduct against the founder and former director of the All-American Boys Chorus.

Matthew Roehl, a choir member from 1977 to 1980, told The Times on Friday that Coughlin kissed him passionately on the lips "dozens of times" when he was 13 or 14 and a member of the chorus. And on at least two occasions -- both aboard buses during tours by the choir -- Roehl contends that Coughlin slipped a hand down his pants and fondled him.

"It went way beyond affection," Roehl, now 27 and a Garden Grove resident, said. "It occurred on long bus trips. We would travel very late at night, until 2 a.m., and he would sit right next to me and do this to me."

Roehl said he brought the alleged incidents to the attention of the choir's management in 1979 but believes that nothing was done.

He decided to talk about the incidents publicly now, he said, because, "I just want the truth to come out."

Coughlin, 68, was suspended from his priestly duties by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange and ordered to sever all ties with the singing group last month after five other men, now aged 23 to 45, alleged that he had molested them as boys from 10 to 30 years ago.

Coughlin, who founded the internationally acclaimed choir in 1970, has denied those charges, saying that he "can't recollect anything" that could have led to them.

Neither Coughlin nor choir board members returned calls for comment on Friday. A spokesman for the diocese could not confirm whether any church officials were aware of Roehl's allegations.

Roehl's statements provide the first indication that the allegations against Coughlin may extend beyond the five men cited in the diocese's investigation.

Of the original five alleged victims, only one -- Joe Beckman -- has been publicly identified. Beckman, 32, said that his father complained to the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles regarding the matter in 1974 and that he himself discussed the alleged molestation early in 1990 with chorus board member Anthony S. Manrique and Gregory S. Smet, a former chorus member and current board member.

While Manrique later confirmed the 1990 meeting, spokesmen for the Diocese of Orange and the Archdiocese of Los Angeles said they had no record of the 1974 complaint.

Roehl said he first complained about his own experiences with the priest in 1979 during a meeting with Smet, then a choir official. Also present, Roehl said, were two other boys who alleged being molested, one of whom later initiated the investigation that resulted in Coughlin's suspension by complaining to the diocese last December.

"We told (Smet) exactly what was happening to us," Roehl recalled of the 1979 meeting. "He told us he would take care of it, that he would talk to Father (Coughlin)."

As far as he knows, Roehl said, no action was ever taken.

Smet could not be reached for comment Friday.

Roehl said he talked about the incidents 10 years later when he mentioned it to a Catholic priest during a premarital counseling session. The priest, whom Roehl declined to identify, urged him to confront Coughlin, the former choir member said. Roehl then contacted Manrique who, he said, set up a meeting with Coughlin in Coughlin's car in the parking lot of St. Anthony Claret Catholic Church in Anaheim.

Coughlin told him that he felt he did nothing wrong, Roehl said.

Roehl said the confrontation left him angry.

"The hardest part is trying to understand who he was," Roehl said. "He was like a father figure. The choir experience was wonderful, except for this."

Roehl said the issue came up one more time in his life, about two years ago when he discussed it with a marriage counselor he and his wife were seeing.

He decided to contact The Times with his story, he said, after reading the comments of other former choir members who said they couldn't believe that such things could have ever happened.

Roehl provided The Times with photos of himself as a chorus member, posing with Coughlin, and an All-American Boys Chorus greeting card with a hand-written note signed "Fr. Coughlin," thanking Roehl's parents for a Christmas gift.

The writing describes Roehl as "one of the finest boys we have ever had in the Chorus. He is a great example to the other boys and a very happy helpfull (sic) person to have in our whole operation."

 
 

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